Jazz kept to the shadows, an action which did not endear him to Starscream. Though part of him was grateful. At least if he was creeping about in the dim, he wasn’t poking Starscream with innumerable, incisive questions. Or offering that enigmatic, cutting smirk.
Slipping out of Iacon unseen was not the difficult part. Though it reminded Starscream that security was lacking in his city. They had no guard, no watchful optics, nothing to serve as advanced warning of an attack.
He would have to attend to that. But later.
Jazz arranged for him to meet with the Autobots within optic-sight of the new settlement, though not so close the casual observer would spot them. A hollowed out building served for cover, concealing them from prying optics.
Starscream expected one, perhaps two Autobots, including Jazz. However, he found three waiting for him in the building, and just beyond the rise, he detected the presence of six more sparks. Starlight occasionally glinted off bright green and purple armor, which was unsurprising considering Prowl was one of the three Autobots waiting within.
Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. “I’m feeling more than a little outnumbered,” he muttered as he lifted his gaze, checking the rafters for more Autobots. Nothing but dust and ironspider webs up there.
Still. That didn’t mean there weren’t any spies hiding in the dark. Jazz, after all, would have been invisible in the dim.
Prowl, behind Mirage and Bumblebee both, sneered. “Get over it.”
“Right,” Starscream drawled. “I’ll get right on that.”
“Starscream, don’t start,” Bumblebee said with an audible sigh. He rubbed at his face, his very different face. Someone had gotten a makeover. “What do you want?”
Starscream held his wings in check. He didn’t want their twitching to betray his unease. “There’re vermin infesting my city, and you’re the closest thing I have to an exterminator.”
Bumblebee’s expression softened. Well, what of it Starscream could see. He had a mouthplate now. It left him looking less friendly.
“Yes. We heard of the explosion. And about Skybyte,” Bumblebee said. At least there was genuine regret in his tone. That made Mirage and Prowl’s scrutiny easier to bear.
Jazz, unsurprisingly, had vanished the moment he’d shown Starscream to the rundown building.
“Who is to blame?” Prowl demanded, more aggressive than Starscream would have expected. In fact, his plating flickered and flared, his field surging with irritation.
Starscream ground his denta. He reserved most of his loathing for Megatron, but damn if there weren’t times he had some to spare for Prowl. He and the tactician occupied the same position, just on opposite sides, and the difference in their respective treatment had always been a source of contention for Starscream.
“Obsidian and Strika are claiming responsibility,” Starscream gritted out. “I’m sure those designations are familiar to you.”
Prowl’s optics flashed. Oh yes, he knew those designations.
Bumblebee’s optics darkened, however. “I don’t recognize them.”
“They are fanatics. Worse than Megatron ever was. They are loyal to no faction, and they will not listen to reason,” Prowl said stiffly.
Starscream inclined his helm. “Precisely. And they are currently hiding somewhere in the maze of tunnels beneath New Iacon. They also have allies, spies, and there is no way to know who they are.”
Mirage stirred at last. “I am failing to see where this is our problem,” he said, his voice as warm as a tank of liquid nitrogen.
Starscream tried not to hate him.
“Because once Obsidian’s done laying waste to me and mine, he’ll come after you and yours,” Starscream replied with an even stare. “His goal isn’t to simply oust me, but to destroy me and everything I stand for.”
“Including the effort to unite Cybertron,” Bumblebee guessed shrewdly.
Starscream lifted his chin. “Naturally.” He dropped his hands and rested one on his hip. “I’ve no doubt he’ll make an offer for the citizenry at large to join him. Just as I’ve no doubt there are many who’ll say yes if only to keep themselves safe.”
“Then that brings us back to the question at hand,” Prowl said, stepping up until he nearly touched Bumblebee’s backplate. “What do you want, Starscream?”
Starscream huffed a ventilation. “Obviously, I’m a little understaffed at the moment. Meanwhile, you’ve got spies and assassins aplenty.”
Arcee wasn’t here, which was a pity. Starscream could really use her assistance. And he had the feeling she’d be more reasonable than these three.
“You have a spy,” Mirage said.
“Rattrap doesn’t count,” Starscream retorted, rolling his optics. “All he got me was a name. He can’t find Obsidian, which means he’s not doing any good. I’m running out of time. I know Obsidian is going to strike again, and I refuse to let that happen.”
Prowl’s optics narrowed.
But it was the way Bumblebee tilted his helm and looked at Starscream that was the most disconcerting. “How is Blurr?”
Starscream cycled his optics, and found himself taking an unconscious step backward. “Fine,” he snapped. “Healing. I fail to see how that’s relevant.”
“He is an Autobot,” Bumblebee said.
“He is not,” Starscream hissed, and curse them all, but there his wings went, hiking upward. His armor flared, and he had to fight to get it back down. “Now are you going to help me or not?”
Mirage shifted his weight, and though he was shorter, Starscream had the impression he looked down his nasal ridge. “I’m tempted, if only because you must be desperate to actually come to those you exiled for help.”
“Speaking of which,” Prowl added with an aggressive fluff of his armor, “We’re not helping you only to be left scrabbling to survive out here.”
Starscream dropped his hand. “I can’t simply let you come back to Iacon en masse. I would lose what standing I’ve gained with my citizens.”
“Your citizens.” Mirage snorted.
“We don’t need more riots,” Bumblebee said, though Starscream wasn’t sure he could call it agreement. “However, I do agree with Prowl. You can’t come to us and demand help without offering anything in return.”
Starscream grumbled internally. “I’m prepared to offer sanctuary to some of your soldiers,” he said, refusing to hide his reluctance. “But Prowl and his pet Constructicons can’t be among them.”
“They are not my pets!” Prowl hissed.
Bumblebee half-turned, resting a hand on Prowl’s shoulder. “Don’t let him provoke you,” he said. “Besides, he is right.” He gave Starscream a sidelong look. “Myself, Prowl, the Constructicons, and Arcee will temporarily remain out here until tensions are smoothed over. The others are to be allowed back into Iacon.”
Starscream nibbled on his bottom lip. That… could actually work. If he allowed the Autobots back in small groups over a week’s time, especially once Obsidian was handled, he was sure he could sway the populace to accepting it. They would have to play repentant, and marginally obedient, but it could work.
“Fine,” he said. “But on my terms. I can’t have a mass influx into my city, or everyone is going to assume it’s an invasion.”
“Fair enough. You can coordinate with Prowl,” Bumblebee said.
Oh, wouldn’t that be fun? If the lasers shooting from Prowl’s optics were any indication, Starscream was going to have the time of his life.
He stared at Bumblebee. “You’re being unexpectedly reasonable about this.”
“It’s our planet, too,” Bumblebee said, before he turned to Mirage. “Are you willing to assist Starscream?”
The prissy noble folded his arms. He gave Starscream a once-over, assessing and dismissing all at once. “Sure,” he said, and his lip curled into a smirk. “It’ll be interesting to see what I actually find.”
A shiver tapped down Starscream’s backstrut. He started to wonder if maybe, contacting Soundwave first might have been the better course of action after all.
His first order of instance was to get clean.
Blurr made a beeline for the washracks and sighed with relief as he stood under the hot solvent. It seeped beneath his armor, against his cables, as steam filled the narrow ‘rack around him. Starscream had it fully stocked with the good stuff, so Blurr took his time.
He scrubbed every nook and cranny. He cataloged scrapes and scratches and places where he’d have to involve a dent-puller. It felt weird to have the solvent spray hit his back, a reminder that he didn’t have his boosters.
Something else to add to the list.
His processor was blissfully calm for once, instead of running crazy circles. Blurr lingered in the rack a little longer than was necessary before he powered down the sprayer and quickly toweled himself off. He gave himself a critical look in the mirror – scrapes and dings accounted for, to be tended later, but he was clean enough.
Blurr wandered back into the main room and turned in a slow circle. He couldn’t return to the berth and recharge the cycle away. That was impossible. Neither could he sit and read a datapad or something equally sedentary. He had to be moving.
The apartment was a mess.
Blurr frowned. He wasn’t a janitor, and he certainly wasn’t Starscream’s cleaning service, but if he was going to be living here, he’d rather it be tidy. Less places for potential assassins to hide for one thing.
Blurr started to clean, and tried not to think too closely about what he was doing. He tidied up the main room, tossing empty cubes into a recycle bin, stacking scattered datapads, pushing random piles of junk into one large pile into the corner.
He straightened the supply room, rinsed out Starscream’s used glass, and found the bottle of ultra-high grade when he organized the bottles of energon and coolant. It must have been what Starscream was drinking, an assumption he confirmed when he gave it a whiff. Primus, but it was awful.
Blurr shoved it to the back of the cabinet. He treated himself to a small serving of coolant – he was running a little hot – and returned to the main room. He planted his hands on his hips as he surveyed his work, feeling a lot less twitchy now that everything was clean. Though the windows remained atrocious.
Frag that. Blurr did not do windows.
He went into the berthroom instead. Here he stripped the berth of the soiled covers and replaced them with fresh ones he found stuffed into a nearby trunk. He refused to dust, but he did pick up some of the random junk from around the room and shove it into a cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind.
He gathered the dirtied covers, unsure what to do with them. Had there been a cleaning station in the storage room? Maybe.
Blurr went back into the main room with his armload of sheets.
“What a good little housemech ya make.”
Blurr startled, sheets dropping from his arms as he whirled toward the voice, his spark leaping into his intake. It didn’t matter that it was only Rattrap, leaning casually against the wall near the entrance. How the frag was he getting in here all the time? Did Starscream know he had an infestation problem?
“Wow. Jumpy much?” Starscream’s little spy said with a big smirk. His pseudo-tail twitched behind him, his grin much like a turbofox that caught the metallocanary.
Blurr scowled. “What the frag are you doing here?” he demanded as he crouched to gather up the sheets. “Starscream isn’t here.”
“Oh, I realize that now,” Rattrap drawled. His tilted his helm from one side to the other. “But since you and him ‘re perty much the same now, I figured ya’d know where I can find him.”
Blurr snorted. “I don’t.” He edged into the storage room and tossed the dirtied covers in the general direction of what he thought was the cleaning station before he returned to the main room.
Rattrap lingered. “Pity. And here I have news and everythin’,” he said, and gave Blurr a long, long look which hinted to the crafty mind behind the stench. “Ya look nice and comfortable here, doncha?”
Blurr planted his hands on his hips. “What’s it to you if I am?”
“Nothin’. Nothin’ at all.” Rattrap pushed off the wall, his smirk widening. “I ain’t gotta join the chorus o’ mechs tellin’ ya to be careful, right? Ya already knew that.”
“You’re telling me to be careful?”
Rattrap had the audacity to laugh, a raspy sound that grated on Blurr’s audials. “I’m his spy, not his lover. It’s debatable which one’s safer.”
Blurr was, at once, struck with an idea. He crossed his arms over his chassis. “Then tell me something.”
Rattrap gave him an askance look. “Mebbe I will, mebbe I won’t.”
Blurr cycled a ventilation, clinging to patience with a fierce tenacity. “There’s a mech in Starscream’s entourage. Name’s Fasttrack.” This little mystery had been nagging at him for weeks. It was past time he addressed it.
“Oh? Ya jealous?”
“It isn’t like that,” Blurr snapped, his engine revving. “He’s supposed to be dead!”
Rattrap shrugged. “Lotta people are. And lotta people aren’t who used they used ta be anymore. It happens.”
Because all the best names were taken. Yes, Blurr knew. He’d considered, on numerous occasions, that this Fasttrack was just a mech. Maybe a Neutral, maybe a former Con. Maybe even an Autobot. Maybe he was someone who wanted to start over with a new name, and knew Fasttrack was dead. Maybe he didn’t even know a real Fasttrack ever existed.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
But it was a pretty unlikely coincidence, wasn’t it?
“You know anything about him?” Blurr asked.
“Nope.” Rattrap bounced the word in his vocalizer, something in his expression sly. He tapped his chin with clawed fingers. “Buuuuuut, I can have a looksee if ya want.”
Blurr gave him an askance look. “Why?”
“Yer Starscream’s now. One and the same.” Rattrap shrugged, though it was far from dismissive, and spun on a heelstrut. He waved a hand over his shoulder. “Though I’d be cautious about trustin’ him. If ya don’t believe me, ya should have a look at what’s in his basement.”
“What do you mean?” Blurr demanded. Something cold dripped into his spark, a little drop of common sense that screamed I knew it!
“See fer yerself.” Rattrap’s fingers glided over the control panel, the door opening for him without so much as a protest. “But ya have a visitor. Might want to take care of that first.”
Rattrap vanished out the door as the panel buzzed. Blurr almost startled again, despite Rattrap’s warning. He stormed toward the panel as Swindle’s voice poured through the speaker.
“Blurr! My best and favorite customer!” The sleazy sales mech sounded far too chipper. “You gonna leave me standing out here all day or can I come up and check out your new digs?”
Blurr pressed a finger to the panel. His optics narrowed. “I’ll come down to you.”
“Now that’s just no fun at all.”
Blurr ignored him. The door opened for him automatically, and he stepped into the main corridor. Rattrap was already gone, and the lift waited for Blurr, so he hadn’t taken it.
Maybe Blurr didn’t want to know how the smelly spy got around.
Blurr selected the ground floor, and examined the buttons as the doors closed and the lift started to descend. Rattrap’s warning lingered. Except that Blurr didn’t even see an option for a basement level. He knew, from a few days ago, that the lift didn’t stop at certain floors. He would have to ask Starscream why.
Nothing indicated the presence of a basement. There was, however, a field scanner.
The lift beeped and deposited him on the ground floor. Blurr’s limp was barely present as he wove through the dim toward the front, where he could make out the shadow of Swindle’s frame through the glassed double-doors.
The moment he opened them, Swindle came strolling inside as though he owned the place. His field preceded him, bright and bubbly, and he threw his hands into the air in a grand gesture.
“Blurr!” His smile was large, wide, practiced. It reminded him, in fact, of Starscream’s politician grin. “Look at you! The picture of recovery.”
Blurr’s optics narrowed. He folded his arms across his abdomen. “What do you want, Swindle?”
The conmech dropped his hands and planted them on his hips. “Now. Is that any way to treat an old friend? Can’t I just drop by because I’m concerned about you?” He tilted his helm, purple visor flashing. “Starscream’s had you sequestered up in here in this tower, after all.”
Blurr arched an orbital ridge. “I was at the conference yesterday.”
“That. Pah.” Swindle waved a hand of dismissal. “I never pay attention to those things.” He clapped his hands together. “So. Blurr. My friend. Tell me. Are we in business?”
“I don’t have a bar anymore, Swindle. The answer to that should be pretty clear.” And yes, thank you for the reminder. It was what he needed. To remember that his livelihood, his peace, his future – it was all nothing more than ashes, debris, and pain.
“Blurr. Sweetspark. My favorite customer. When has a little thing like an explosion kept a businessmech from being in business, hm?” Swindle sashayed forward, his hands making quick gestures. “You should see this as an opportunity! A chance to go bigger, bolder, better.” He waved to the vague ceiling. “I’m seeing lights. A stage. Multiple bars. A trading post even.”
Blurr wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be amused or annoyed. He settled for a little of both. “I don’t have the credits for half that.”
Swindle slung an arm over his shoulder and poked him in the side. “You do if I put up the other capital.”
Blurr twisted out from under Swindle’s arm, giving his armor a shake. “And why would I let you do that? I look away once, and you’d cut ownership out from under me.”
“I wouldn’t do that.” Swindle gasped theatrically, clutching at his chestplate. “I can’t believe you’d say such things about me.”
Blurr rubbed at his forehelm. His hip didn’t hurt, but frag if an ache wasn’t building in his processor. “Swin, what is this really about?”
“Blurr, sweetspark, the only thing I’m ever about is credits, and lots of ‘em.” Swindle paused however, and peered at him. “You’re looking a little strained, Blurr. Starscream got you on a tight leash?”
His armor fluffed before he could stop himself. Anger rose to the forefront, above the amusement. “He doesn’t have me on any kind of leash!”
“Really?” Swindle tilted his helm, lips pulled into a slow smirk. “That sounded defensive.” He pointed toward Blurr. “And you’re getting pretty agitated there.” He paused and tapped two fingers against his lips. “Hmm. Can’t race. Can’t run. Can’t even spar, I’ll bet. Need some help handling that charge?”
The dull ache turned into a throb Blurr couldn’t ignore. He groaned. He and Swindle had never shared a berth, not for lack of trying on Swindle’s part. This was obviously neither the time nor the place for Swindle to make yet another pointless overture, yet here he was.
Swindle was up to something. Blurr just wished he could read between the lines to figure out what it was.
Swindle chuckled. “Yeah, Starscream probably has that well in hand. Wouldn’t want to encroach.” He paused and laughed a little harder. “Never had my optics clawed out by a Seeker before. Not an experience I’d care to have.”
Blurr rubbed at his forehelm. “Is there a point to this or are you just here to waste my time?”
“Of course there is. We should be business partners, you ‘n me. Together, I think we can help breathe some spark into this economy, doncha think?” Swindle made broad gestures, his animated frame language as much a show as that politician’s grin. “I mean, we don’t have to be partners like you and Starscream, but partners all the same.”
Even in the height of his racing days, Blurr could not remember a time he was as popular in the way he was now. First Starscream, now Swindle. What did they honestly think he had to offer? Was he that much of a trophy?
Blurr frowned. He took another step back from Swindle. “I can’t think about that right now. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a terrorist trying to destroy Cybertron.”
“There’s always a terrorist trying to kill everyone,” Swindle retorted with a flash of his visor. “If it’s not this mystery mech Starscream claims exists, then it’s Megatron who, by the way, your Seeker lover used to serve.”
Blurr cycled a ventilation. “He’s not my lover,” he said, and then shook his helm. “The point is, I can’t think about rebuilding yet. Not until I have Obsidian where he belongs.”
“Obsidian, hm? Is that his name?” Blurr didn’t know Swindle’s smile could get any larger, until it did. “I had my suspicions.”
Primus damn it. Frag, but Blurr hated Swindle sometimes.
Blurr’s engine growled. “Out.”
Swindle had the gall to look offended. “Well, that’s rather rude. Here I am trying to be generous, help you get back on your pedes, and you’re throwing me out on my aft.”
“Because you weren’t interested in helping me, you just wanted information.” Blurr grabbed Swindle by the elbow and ushered him to the door. “There. You got your information. Now you can stop pretending you care and leave.”
Swindle didn’t fight him at least. “I meant what I said. We should go into business together.”
“I’m not interested.”
The door opened and Blurr all but shoved Swindle onto the other side of it.
“Is that because Starscream doesn’t want you to be?” Swindle asked.
Blurr slammed his fist into the panel, closing it on Swindle’s question. That might have just been a very poor decision. Swindle was his only supplier, after all. But if he never managed to rebuild Maccadams, he supposed it wouldn’t matter.
Besides, Swindle was easily swayed by credits. He’d forgive anything and everything if you waved enough under his nasal ridge.
Blurr did not like being played.
He huffed a ventilation and stalked back toward the lift. He didn’t have to look to know that Swindle didn’t linger. Why would he? He’d gotten what he wanted. Blurr had no idea what Swindle was going to do with the information.
Sell it to the highest bidder probably. Fantastic.
Blurr growled subvocally and stomped into the lift. He made to punch the button for the penthouse, but hesitated. The field scanner was right there. Rattrap indicated Starscream was hiding something in the basement.
Blurr did not like being lied to either.
He refused to sit up in that penthouse like some housemech waiting for their master to come home. Frag that.
He shoved his hand into the scanner, felt the prickle of the ion field as it washed over his plating. He half-expected to be denied. But just like the security protocols above, this one accepted him. There was a confirming beep before the doors closed, and the lift descended.
Blurr claimed his hand and waited, spark thumping in his chassis. He was half afraid of what he would find. He didn’t know what to expect. What could Starscream possibly be hiding down here? What dark secret would he find?
The lift donged and the doors opened. Just beyond was a dark room, dimly lit on the far end. He couldn’t make out anything but vague shapes. It was quiet, save for the steady hum of some distant machinery.
Blurr cycled a ventilation and stepped out of the lift. A quick scan informed him he was in an open space, though one filled with boxes and crates. He clicked on his headlights and moved to the nearest one, prying up the lid. It was filled with junk.
Seriously. It was junk. Stuff that could probably be made useful by an enterprising mech, or could be refurbished for some reason or another. But it was junk.
Had he expected something else? Weapons? Ordinance? Stockpiles of energon and other necessary supplies?
There was a path through the stacks of crates. It was comfortable sized for a mech of Blurr’s size, but for a Seeker? It would have been uncomfortably narrow. He tried to imagine Starscream fitting through here.
Blurr followed the path, which was winding rather than straight forward. It led him toward the dim glow in the far corner, however, which got brighter as he got closer. The sound of machinery became louder as well.
He rounded the corner, and Blurr drew to a startled stop. His optics rounded, his jaw physically dropping.
Of all the things he expected to find in Starscream’s basement, Wheeljack in a regeneration chamber was the least of them.
What the frag?